Anyone who harbors hatred for all who cross the border without documentation should try living in towns controlled by drug lords and wracked by frequent gangland-style crimes.
The problem with President Obama’s executive orders on immigration isn’t in the substance; it is that he has “Obamacared” immigration.
Before the Affordable Care Act, Americans generally agreed that the nation’s health care system needed changes. But rather than hashing out a difficult compromise with Republicans, the president used a Democratic majority in Congress and a deft procedural move to pass the ACA without a single Republican vote. From then on, the merits of health reform took a back seat to partisan bickering over the flaws of the act.
Similarly, the nation is in need of a type of immigration reform that legitimizes undocumented workers, grants them work permits and keeps track of them, helps them obtain citizenship fairly, tightens the border and punishes those who come here to cause mischief. But the compromise necessary to accomplish this now will be drowned by the partisan cries of foul.
The president’s case is that Congress has failed to act, therefore he must act unilaterally. But his legal case for the constitutionality of his executive order is thin, and the practical effect will be to strike a serious blow against any lasting solutions.
And, unfortunately, the parallels to executive orders by presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush are not what they seem. Both former presidents expanded policies already enacted by Congress in limited ways to keep the families of immigrants intact. They did not create new law.
This is a painful moment for supporters of real immigration reform.
To be sure, the president is right when he says Congress has failed to act. Had Congress passed a bill doing what the president announced Thursday, giving people who have worked in this country at least five years and have children who are citizens or legal residents the right to apply for work permits and protection from deportation, we would have applauded. We likely also would have said the measure didn’t go far enough. The tragedy of America’s failure to act on immigration is that families have been torn apart and the nation has been forced to pursue people who provide work necessary for the economy. No orderly way is in place to separate hard-working immigrants from criminals, or to legitimize those who contribute and to collect taxes from them.
Underlying the situation are desperate living conditions in Mexico and other nations, where criminals control entire communities and honest people have no way to provide for the safety and welfare of their loved ones. Anyone who harbors hatred for all who cross the border without documentation should try living in towns controlled by drug lords and wracked by frequent gangland-style crimes.
The president has, as he said, deported record numbers of such people. And while the Senate has passed meaningful immigration reform bills, conservatives who brand any such attempts as amnesty have kept it from even coming to a vote in the House.
This is disgraceful for a nation that proudly displays a plaque in its main harbor that beckons “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
And yet, as frustrating as it is, the nation must operate under legitimately established rules and laws. Obama himself has said often that he wished he could do what he did Thursday night, but that this is “not how our Constitution is written.”
Now Republicans are likely to challenge the executive order in court. The good notions it contains will become fodder in a legal and political firestorm that separates them from rational consideration and compromise. Undocumented immigrants and their families will benefit, but never with any real assurance that their status won’t be revoked by a court’s decision or by a future president who rescinds Obama’s order.
And real, lasting immigration reform, difficult to achieve under normal circumstances, seems farther away than ever.